Thomas Estep is the first surgeon – and first physician from Wichita Surgical Specialists – to serve as president of the Medical Society of Sedgwick County.
Estep, 61, also is a medical pioneer in Wichita, leading the team of surgeons who performed the first heart transplant in the city, in 1986.
He came to Wichita from Indianapolis after completing a fellowship in cardiovascular thoracic surgery. He earned his medical degree from the University of Calgary in Alberta and did his general surgery residency at the University of Manitoba.
Estep stepped away from doing heart transplants a year or two before the program, which was run at Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis, was ended in 2009.
He sees his role at the medical society as an advocate for both patients and physicians, particularly when it comes to legislative issues.
“Sometimes (legislators) need to hear it from the people in the trenches,” Estep said.
He said he also thinks a key to controlling health care costs is for patients to take some responsibility in their health, mainly through stopping detrimental behaviors such as smoking.
Estep said that while he has been a member of the society since he arrived in Wichita in the early 1980s, he’s only been active in the 109-year-old group for the past dozen years or so. But, he said he feels an obligation to serve the group.
Q. Why did you volunteer to put yourself in position to serve as medical society president?
A. “After being here for 30 years … there’s a bit of a calling to sort of give back to the community. You look at what the medical society does for your profession for years and years and to ignore that, I think is wrong.”
Q. Did you realize the time commitment that this volunteer position requires?
A. “As president-elect you sort of become acquainted with what the time commitment is going to be. I shadowed Linda Francisco (the society’s 2011 president) so I knew what I was getting into.”
Q. For many years you were the city’s only heart transplant surgeon. Why did you stop doing that work, even before the program in Wichita was ended?
A. “After starting the program … and running it for about 22 years, one of the things you have to learn is when to be able to let go. I used to barefoot water-ski … and there comes a time when you shouldn’t barefoot water-ski. It was time for me to pass on the baton.”
Q. How has that affected your surgical work load?
A. “I’m even busier than when I was doing heart transplants.”
Q. Does the greater public exposure that comes with being the medical society president make you uncomfortable?
A. “I don’t mind being taken out of my comfort zone.”